France`s Sarkozy to launch re-election bid

French President Nicolas Sarkozy badly lags Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in opinion polls

Paris: French President Nicolas Sarkozy will appear on television news on Wednesday evening, where he is expected to formally declare his candidacy for a second term.

The centre-right President, who badly lags Socialist challenger Francois Hollande in opinion polls, launched his Twitter feed with the news that he had accepted an invitation to appear on TF1`s evening news at 1900 GMT.

With the long-awaited announcement, Sarkozy will formally enter the race, although his opponents say he has been campaigning for months.

He is expected to flesh out his campaign platform in a speech to an audience of several thousand in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille on Sunday.

"Now the real campaign starts," French Foreign Minister and close Sarkozy ally Alain Juppe told France Info radio on Wednesday. "We will have the real debate and see the weaknesses of the Socialist candidate."

Despite polls showing Hollande would beat Sarkozy by 15 points in a May 6 runoff between the two, the president`s camp is confident he can narrow the gap before the April 22 first round.

Socialist Party leader Martine Aubry described Sarkozy entering the campaign as a non-event.

"The French aren`t interested in this sort of communication ... they want us to deal with their problems," she said on French television station LCI.

The election comes at a critical time for Europe, with France battling alongside Germany to overcome a eurozone debt crisis that has stifled growth across the region.

Credit rating agency Moody`s warned late on Monday that it could follow Standard & Poor`s and remove France`s AAA rating. Finance Minister Francois Baroin has promised to stick to measures designed to promote growth and cut France`s deficit.

Bureau Report

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